Originally published Summer 2008
Auditory processing is the ability to sequentially hold multiple pieces of auditory information together. It is a person’s capacity to take in auditory information and use it in his or her short-term memory, which refers to information entering the brain and then immediately coming back out. Each person’s auditory processing ability has a global effect on his or her life and functional capabilities. Auditory processing is vital for many skills that bring success in school and life such as picking up on social cues, following a conversation, having good reading comprehension, following directions, attending, and reading utilizing a phonetic approach.
Behavior is also greatly influenced by auditory function. For example, if a twelve-year-old child processes information at the developmental level of a four- or five-year-old, he will act more like a child of that age. He will be socially immature, interacting better with younger children and interrupting conversations so he won’t forget what he wants to say. He will also have difficulty following multi-step directions such as, “Go upstairs, change your clothes, and bring your jacket down with you when you come.” The parent soon angrily stomps up the stairs to confront an otherwise compliant child who did go upstairs, did change his clothes, and then promptly forgot what else he was supposed to do. He simply couldn’t hold all the auditory instructions together long enough to accomplish the task. This frustrating experience from a normally compliant child is less likely to be a behavior issue and more likely to be a processing issue that can be addressed and eventually eliminated, thus supplying more harmony in the home and better overall function for the child.
Another prominent symptom of a child with auditory dysfunction is the inability to accomplish age- appropriate responsibilities (i.e., having to be reminded every day for years to take out the trash, brush his teeth, or feed the dog). Having to be redirected in order to stay on task is also a common symptom of low auditory processing.
Why are so many children struggling with low auditory processing?
Many years ago when our educational system was developed, ours was primarily an auditory society. Families ate together and talked two to three times a day. In the evenings they read or listened to radio broadcasts for hours. They developed their auditory processing abilities by practicing.
Today, however, our society is primarily visual and permeated with televisions, computers, movies, and electronic games. These all-consuming visual activities saturate our lives and leave little time for the truly important practice of listening and developing our auditory processing abilities. Even though our society is primarily visual, we are still using an educational delivery system that was developed for a primarily auditory society. A good example of this is phonics, a system of teaching reading that is dependent on the student’s remembering the individual sounds of letters and holding all these pieces of information together in order to sound out a word. Phonics is an excellent way to teach reading if the child has good processing abilities. But if a child’s auditory processing is low, phonics can be a frustrating experience for both parent and child.
What can be done?
Since the brain is dynamic and ever-changing, much can be done to remediate the processing ability of any person at any age. By providing specific stimulation to the brain to increase auditory processing ability, global benefits will result for the child.
You may request a free auditory test kit at www.littlegiantsteps.com, clicking on “Get My Test Kit” from the home page. This kit will allow you to test any individual, ages four to adult. This information will give you a baseline to work from and a better understanding of your child’s current processing abilities. To increase auditory processing, digit span exercises should be done for two minutes, twice a day. Instructions for digit span exercises are included in each digit span deck available in our website store.
In addition to daily digit span exercises, read to your children at least one hour a day as an additional way of developing processing skills. When they are not listening to you read, they can listen to books or stories on tape/CD (without the book).This is a great way to add value to the time they spend playing with Legos, coloring, or engaging in other fine motor activities. Listening to audio stories and books increases vocabulary, reinforces sentence structure, provides opportunity for narration, and models good writing structure in addition to developing auditory sequential processing. Audio stories are also a wonderful way to productively occupy preschool children while you are schooling older siblings. It is never too early to start working on auditory processing skills!
JAN BEDELL IS A CERTIFIED NEURODEVELOPMENTALIST AND SOUND THERAPY SPECIALIST. HER MASTER’S DEGREE IS IN SPECIAL EDUCATION AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT. JAN IS ALSO THE FOUNDER OF LITTLE GIANT STEPS, WHICH HAS BEEN HELPING FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN WHO ARE STRUGGLING IN SCHOOL AND IN LIFE FOR OVER FIFTEEN YEARS. JAN BEDELL’S CONVENTION ‘08 WORKSHOPS ARE AVAILABLE AT RHINO-TECHNOLOGIES.COM. PHOTO: BEN DAVIS, AGE 9, SON OF TIFFANY AND MICHAEL DAVIS OF OKLAHOMA CITY. PHOTO TAKEN BY KAYLEE HOWERTON.